Zetterlund's goals, solid effort help Utica Comets end winless skid

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UTICA – Fabian Zetterlund had an unintended moment of levity Friday.

Zetterlund, the 22-year-old Utica Comets forward who is not one to shy away from showcasing his personality, had just tied the game against the Syracuse Crunch.

Zetterlund started his celebration by sliding on the ice on one knee near the Crunch blue line … and unintentionally collided with one of the linesmen.

Both player and official seemed to be good sports about it as they slid toward center ice. 

LOOK OUT STRIPES!!!!! pic.twitter.com/orpgleQj4L

— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) March 26, 2022 ">

The tally – part of a two-goal night from Zetterlund – combined with a good team effort and solid performance from goalie Mareks Mitens helped propel the Comets to a needed 3-1 win over the Crunch in an exciting 12th meeting of the season between the North Division rivals.

Brian Flynn added an empty-netter late to help seal the result. 

Zetterlund’s accidental bump was announced tongue-in-check as the “Collision of the Game,” providing a laugh for the capacity crowd.

“That’s the first time for that,” Zetterlund said with a smile. “I made sure he didn’t fall hard. … He just said, ‘it is all good.’”

It was all good for the Comets in snapping the team’s season-long three-game (0-2-0-1) winless streak. Utica also had one win in the last five games. 

“There was just a little more pace to our game (Friday). I thought our compete level was high,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. “I wouldn’t say we were dire straits, but certainly our players recognized the moment and played hard.”

It was good response for the Comets (36-14-6-1 overall, 0.693 points percentage), who maintained their hold on first place in the North Division with 15 regular-season games remaining. 

“We’re all grinding so hard in the (recent) games we lost,” said Zetterlund, who leads the team with 23 goals and 47 points. “We struggled the last couple games. But, (Friday) we showed we’re a good hockey team.” 

Zetterlund teamed with Frederik Gauthier (two assists) and rookie Luke Stevens – called up officially Friday from ECHL Adirondack – and the trio totaled five points. Stevens added his first AHL point. 

“Gauthier stepped up and played a fabulous game. He played hard and played the right way. I was happy to see that he’s getting confidence and playing hard on the offensive side. Zee has been a solid contributor all year,” said Dineen, who praised Zetterlund’s leadership qualities. “Luke did a good job stepping in and recognizing an opportunity was available.” 

Mitens, making his second AHL start since Feb. 26 – totaled 19 saves and several timely ones late in the third. It was the second time Mitens – who entered the game with a 3.51 goals-against average, allowed fewer than two goals. It was Mitens’ first AHL win since Jan. 30 to give him a 6-5-2 record. 

“He understood we were in a situation where we needed a goaltending effort and we got one,” Dineen said. 

The teams combined for three goals in the second.

After Gage Gonglaves put in a rebound 51 seconds in for a Syracuse lead, Utica Comets responded with Zetterlund’s goals about four minutes later.

On the first goal, an unchecked Zetterlund on the left side got a backhand feed from Stevens to quickly score with 16:05 remaining.

“I kind of knew he was going to pass it between his legs there,” Zetterlund said. “(Stevens) has some skills. I was ready for it.”

On his second goal, Zetterlund knocked down a clearing attempt and Gauthier played the puck near the wall to the open Swedish forward at the edge of the right circle where he shot through a screen past Max Lagace (21 saves) with 12:31 left in the period.

“The crowd tonight was huge,” Zetterlund said. “We heard them a lot.”

There’s not much to weigh the result for the Comets, who are in the middle of a stretch of nine games in 14 days.

The team plays rare road games Sunday and Monday. Utica plays at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at Providence before playing at 7 p.m. at Hartford. The team also plays Wednesday at Rochester. 

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